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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Lucio Silla, K. 135
Kresimir Spicer (Lucio Silla), Lenneke Ruiten (Giunia), Marianne Crebassa (Cecilio), Inga Kalna (Lucio Cinna), Giulia Semenzato (Celia), Chorus, Orchestra and Ballet Company of Teatro alla Scala, Makhar Vaziev (ballet director), Bruno Casoni (chorus master), Marc Minkowski (conductor), Marshall Pynkoski (stage director), Antoine Fontaine (set and costume designer), Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg (choreographer), Hervé Gary (lighting designer), Arnalda Canali (video director)
Recording: Live at Teatro alla Scala, Milan, Italy (2016) – 186’
C Major DVD 743308 (or Blu-ray 743404) – PCM Stereo – Picture format 16:9 – Region 0 – Booklet in English, German and French – Subtitles in Italian, English, German, French, Korean and Japanese (Distributed by Naxos of America)

The Austrian emperor who complained to Mozart that Die Entführung aus dem Serail had too many notes was obviously unacquainted with Lucio Silla, the opera seria composed 11 years earlier. The 16 year-old Mozart, composing his third opera for Milan’s royal ducal theatre, seems to have been seized with a superabundance of inspiration on top of his astonishing talent and poured out a tsunami of music for this stereotypical tale of romantic entanglements involving a figure from history, in this case a general and dictator during the Roman Republic.

The soloists consist of four sopranos and one tenor. (A truly complete production would have had a second tenor role, but obviously enough was considered enough.) Lucio Silla, the tenor, is in love with Giunia and has banished her fiancé, Cecilio, and spread the rumour that he is dead. Cecilio has managed to return to Rome, and with the help of his friend, Cinna, is reunited with Giunia. They voice their intention to murder Silla. Adding a very lively note to the action is Silla’s sister, Celia, who is in love with Cinna. In the end Silla declares that the two pairs of lovers shall marry and that he, who has voiced his discomfort with being a dictator, resigns.

So: characters named Silla, Cinna, Cecilio, Celia, and Giunia. Got that?

The best and worst aspects of the work quickly come to the fore during the overture. Conductor Marc Minkowski shows off both its muscular and playful aspects, but its sheer busyness becomes wearying. Throughout the lengthy (115 minute) first act the orchestra manages to give weight to the endless note-spinning; some da capo arias go on so long one forgets what the character is singing about.

Acts II and III, combined, are a full 30 minutes shorter than Act I which is a good thing. Act II ends with an intense confrontation scene, complete with chorus, dancing, swordplay, and ultra-dramatic lighting effects. Act III contains a welcome break in the highly-wrought intensity, when Cecilio sings a rapt aria, ”Pupille amate non lagrimate”, followed by two heartfelt numbers for Giunia. One is forced to admit that the work contains many lovely things that look forward to Mozart’s mature masterpieces.

The singing on the whole is terrific, with everyone giving all-out emotive performances in the style director Marshall Pynkoski and choreographer Jeannette Lajeunnesse Zingg have honed over many years with their own company, Toronto's Opera Atelier. Pynkoski has devised a maximum of stage action, and the characters’ relationships with one another are always emphatic - and often seem to be staged with the camera in mind. Scenes elide skillfully. Thanks to this - plus the grand scenic designs and colourful costumes - virtually every shot makes for an attractive, riveting image.

The La Scala audience reacted favorably, with extra applause for the two cross-dressers, Marianne Crebassa and Inga Kalna. Both give distinguished performances. The role of Giunia is very much the centre of the work. Lenneke Ruiten expresses it all very well, though flags a bit toward the end. Giulia Semenzato brings an ironic, flirtatious presence as Celia, who taunts and teases her brother. The title role can be hard to put across dramatically as he veers from imperiousness to uncertainty. Kresimir Spicer’s employs his warm tenor to expressive ends. (An aria from Handel’s Silla has been interjected toward the end to help dramatize Silla’s abrupt transition from oppressor to Mr. Nice Guy.)

This is a flawed work from a rarified, remote genre, and delivering it to a modern audience is a daunting task. This production has the courage of its convictions and is probably the top version for anyone wishing to investigate the work further.

Here is an account of Opera Atelier’s production at their home base.

Michael Johnson




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